Jute industry sounds warning over synthetic bags


LAHORE – Without considering the inherent health and environmental risks posed by synthetic packaging materials, the government has planned to utilise woven polypropylene bags for wheat storage. Polypropylene usage in packing would not only contaminate strategic wheat reserves but would also be in direct contravention of Jute Packaging Material (Compulsory Use in Packaging Commodities) Rules, 1987.
Mazhar emphasised that these substandard synthetic packaging materials entailed serious health hazards, while the government did not heed concerns attached to the issue. He revealed that neither Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) nor Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) possess testing and standardisation facilities to evaluate polypropylene packaging materials.
Referring to a recent PCSIR test report, he pointed out that PCSIR scientists did not follow the reference method of Pakistan Standard Institute (PSI) integral to ISO 13934 and ISO 105 standards for testing woven polypropylene. In addition, the PCSIR report did not confirm the virginity and UV stability of the packaging materials. He disclosed that in a recent meeting with the PJMA representatives PCSIR officials acknowledged their nonprofessional approach. It was a matter of grave concern, he noted.
Elaborating on the jute industry, Mazhar highlighted that it was a highly labour intensive industry in the country. It was established in 1970s due an initiative launched by the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) for the provision of packaging materials for food grains to government agencies. Currently, the jute industry directly employs over 25,000 workers and indirectly supports 100,000 people.
He noted that previously most items had been packed in jute bags, but over the course of time, the use of jute sacks has sidelined and their only significant use in now in wheat storage. Currently there are 14 jute mills in the country, of which four have been shut down, while the rest are working on half of their capacity. It was pointed out that provincial food departments were a major customers of jute mills, which use over 70 percent of total national produce of the jute mills while the rest was used by the private sector.
He called on the government to review its decision, as such a move would not only hurt the jute industry of the country, but would also lead to massive unemployment in the event that the jute industry collapsed. He reiterated his view that synthetic packaging would ruin the quality of wheat stocks.
Responding to a query, he stated that, last year, the Bangladeshi government imposed an embargo on jute exports, which resulted in a dire raw material shortage in jute mills which did not possess sufficient stocks to meet domestic demand. He however attempted to quell any fears over a problem in jute processing by noted that the incident had only occurred once and that the industry currently has sufficient capacity to cater to domestic demand.